DBT Series 12 - Opposite Action

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Welcome to Emotion Regulation skills! As a quick recap from the Series 1 Intro, the goal of these skills are “to reduce emotional suffering,” not to get rid of the emotions we may be experiencing (1). The first Emotion Regulation skill we will visit is called Opposite Action.

Opposite Action is an Emotion Regulation skill you can use when you want to change (but not get rid of!) an emotion you are experiencing. This skill can especially be useful to use when acting on the emotion you are experiencing may cause you harm and/or get in the way of you acting effectively and mindfully.

You can use Opposite Action by doing the following:

  • Name the Emotion
  • Describe the Action Urge(s)
  • Identify the Opposite Action Urge(s)
  • Act Opposite ALL THE WAY
  • Repeat Over and Over

Name the Emotion. This allows us to identify the emotion we are experiencing and to acknowledge its presence. You can also help identify the emotion by noticing what physical sensations come up in your body. For example, you may name “sadness” and notice a heavy feeling in your shoulders and prickly feelings in the eyes as if you might cry.

Describe the Action Urge(s). This helps us identify the behavior we may engage in because of the emotion. With sadness, the action urges may be to isolate from others and to stay in bed.

Identify the Opposite Action Urge(s). This can help give us an idea on what we can do instead. For example, rather than isolating from others and staying in bed, you may get out of bed and call a friend.

Act opposite ALL THE WAY. This may be challenging especially if the opposite action urge seems daunting. Sometimes acting opposite all the way includes engaging in smaller opposite action urges along the way. An important thing to remember here is to not only physically engage in the opposite action, but to also engage mentally. This may include encouraging yourself (i.e., “I’ve got this!”).

Repeat Over and Over. This includes engaging in the opposite action urge(s) over and over until the emotion starts to shift and/or the intensity of the original emotion decreases.

Want to hear more about the DBT Opposite Action skill? Check out this free video from DBT-RU to hear more! (2)


(1) Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd ed., p. 323). The Guilford Press.

(2) [@DBTRU]. (2020, December 8). Opposite Action  [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwNnG7mIu1E

Reminder: these blog posts are meant to be purely educational and/or entertainment tools and do NOT replace psychotherapy and/or other medically necessary treatments.

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